Learn About BMI and ASCAP
A common question is whether you can belong to both ASCAP and BMI. The answer is you cannot be a member of both BMI and ASCAP. You can only belong to one performance rights organization (PRO) at any given time, so if you want to switch from one to the other, you will need to allow your current contract to expire before you can move to the other PRO.
Is One PRO Better Than the Other?
There really is very little difference between the two organizations.
Both essentially do the same task. The splits might look different on your ASCAP deal than your BMI deal, as ASCAP says it gives 50% to the songwriter and 50% to the publisher, while BMI says it gives 100% to each. However, this is just semantics - BMI is splitting the pot in half and giving each party 100% of their 50%.
Many people end up making a decision about what PRO to join based on which ones their favorite artists use. Some are influenced by their record label or publisher. If you want a history lesson, ASCAP has been around for longer and BMI was created as a haven for rock music and what were then called "race records" - and ASCAP fought bitterly when BMI knocked their artists off the popular charts in the 1950s and hinted that BMI was supporting artists that were leading the country to an immoral place (helping to lead us to the payola scandal)...but that's ancient history and really is neither here nor there for most people choosing a PRO today.
What About SESAC?
SESAC - and no, SESAC doesn't stand for anything (ok, it did once, but it doesn't anymore) - is unlike BMI and ASCAP in that membership is not open to everyone. You have to be picked to join SESAC, with the idea being that they can do a better job representing their clients if they are selective about their catalog.
If you are invited to join, it can be a good place to be, since SESAC tends to be a bit more tech-savvy than the other two PROs.
I Heard This Thing About SoundExchange...
SoundExchange exists to collect royalties for performers and sound copyright owners on digital music plays on non-interactive platforms - in other words, when you're listening to music digitally and someone else is selecting what you will hear next. Many streaming services have worked out deals to pay the other PROs digital revenue directly, without going through SoundExchange.
SoundExchange exists to pay the performers on a track - not the songwriters - which makes them different from PROs.
So, What Should I Do?
Join BMI or ASCAP. SESAC welcomes submissions, but keep in mind that you will need to wait to be vetted - and then invited - before joining. If you're a songwriter only, SoundExchange is not for you. If you write AND perform your own music, take a look at SoundExchange for those types of royalties.
The easiest way to join BMI or ASCAP is via their websites. Learn more.